The sun broke through the clouds over St. Petersburg City Hall at exactly 10 a.m., and when Mayor Rick Kriseman began his first State of the City address moments later, it seemed a perfect metaphor for Kriseman's rosy message about St. Petersburg: The sun shines here.
Whether or not everyone agrees with that message didn't matter to the enthusiastic crowd of supporters gathered to hear Kriseman. In his speech, Kriseman drew heavily from both big and small victories — raising minimum wage for city workers, ending the red light camera program and taking the fence down around the Pier to convey his message: St. Petersburg rocks.
Starting with an upbeat message about the Pier — including a timeline for city council to select a new plan for the Pier by Memorial Day — and moving through to moments such as the historic raising the gay pride flag over city hall, Kriseman didn't hesitate to remind everyone how lucky they were to have his administration leading the way for St. Petersburg.
"It's a good time to be in St. Petersburg," he said.
Kriseman's rah-rah speech was not without merit: Property values in St. Petersburg have increased. The city has $104 million in new property tax revenue, and Kriseman may potentially be the only of the city's last three mayors to solve the woes surrounding St. Petersburg's now-dormant Pier. In addition, he announced plans to use Penny for Pinellas money to fund a new police station without increasing taxes, and reminded everyone his new chief, Anthony Holloway, has one big job: Rebuild the police department.
"No pressure, chief," he said, presumably in jest. And about that new chief: Kriseman did acknowledge, with a tongue-in-cheek remark, the drama surrounding the way he selected Chief Anthony Holloway.
"Even if it meant I was slightly changing the process I created," he said, he had faith in his choice.
As for the things Kriseman's administration hasn't accomplished, such as securing the Rays's future in the 'Burg or finding a realistic solution to homelessness? He said he was "hopeful we can reach [an] agreement" to keep the Rays and that he was "committed to ending veteran homelessness in St. Petersburg," although he offered no details as to how.
Responsibility for other less-than-state-of-the-city-worthy moments for the past year fell squarely on the shoulders of Tallahassee and the voters, he reminded the crowd. The city lobbied state lawmakers for Medicaid expansion in vain, the voters shut down Greenlight Pinellas and Tallahassee threw up political roadblocks to other needs.
Kriseman spoke more realistically about South St. Pete — refraining from calling the predominantly African-American and low-income area "Midtown" as past mayors have — and the challenges there. He admitted and addressed problems facing South Side residents during his 30-minute talk, giving perhaps more time to this issue than any others.
"This is a long-term process," he said, saying that South Side residents need to see change in schools, housing, healthcare and other areas.
While past mayors pointed to statistics to suggest quality of life had improved south of Central Ave., Kriseman pointed to statistics illustrating the work that still needs to be done: 16 percent of the city's residents, he said, live below the poverty line, but almost 33 percent of residents living within the South Side's community redevelopment area (an area targeted for improvements) live below the poverty line.
Parts of his plan to improve the quality of life for South Side residents? A formalized economic policy for the whole city.
"Increasing opportunity is the only way we will make the long-held dream of a seamless city a reality," he said, adding it would call for "blurred lines" between communities. Ostensibly, his singular economic policy would be one part of that seamless city and those blurred lines.
Kriseman reminded the crowd their differences in class, income, neighborhood and background would not detract from St. Petersburg.
"Our common love for this city is strong enough to move us forward," he promised.
If you want to read the full speech, you can read a copy by clicking on the PDF below. View document "St. Petersburg State of the City 2015"